Conference Superintendents, A Proposed New Office for the Global Methodist Church

Walter B. Fenton
Bishop Mark J. Webb addresses the Great Lakes Provisional Annual Conference as the Rev. Dr. Scott Pattison, the conference's president pro tem, takes in the proceedings.
Bishop Mark J. Webb addresses the Great Lakes Provisional Annual Conference as the Rev. Dr. Scott Pattison, the conference’s president pro tem, takes in the proceedings.

As part of an extensive legislative package slated to come before the Global Methodist Church’s convening General Conference in San Jose, Costa Rica, September 20 – 26, 2024, the denomination’s Transitional Leadership Council is proposing the creation of the office of conference superintendent.

“A principal aim for people forming the GM Church is to think prudently about the use of the denomination’s resources as we build a leadership structure that is faithful, effective, and financially prudent,” said Cara Nicklas, the chairwoman of the Transitional Leadership Council. “The TLC believes the office of conference superintendent will provide annual conferences with flexible leadership arrangements. It will also allow a limited number of bishops to focus on proclaiming, teaching, and defending the faith, and uniting the Church’s conferences as they all work together to fulfill its mission.”

Last year, the Council appointed a 15-member task force to consider how the superintendency of the GM Church might function and then submit to it a report with various recommendations. The Rev. Dr. Jeff Greenway, a TLC member and the president pro tem of the Allegheny West Provisional Annual Conference, was appointed to lead the task force, which met regularly from October 2023 through February 2024.

In a previous announcement the TLC said it adopted the task force’s recommendation for a general rather than a residential form of an episcopacy. Most Global Methodist members are familiar with the latter, where bishops typically reside in and oversee one annual conference. A general episcopal form of church governance envisions a bishop presiding over several annual conferences, and doing so with the assistance of conference superintendents who, in most cases, will superintend the annual conference where he or she is a member.

During the GM Church’s transitional period, as provisional annual conferences came into existence, local organizers nominated a president pro tem to serve as their leader who was then elected and assigned by the Transitional Leadership Council. In the majority of annual conferences presidents pro tem have necessarily performed some administrative functions that historically have been performed by bishops in a residential model. The proposed legislation envisions the role of the president pro tem giving way to the office of a conference superintendent.

“One of the challenges and gifts of starting a new church is having to respond to circumstances as they arise for which there has not been provision; in the process you inevitably learn what works and what does not,” said the Rev. Keith Boyette, the GM Church’s Transitional Connectional Officer. “By the time Bishops [Scott] Jones and [Mark] Webb joined the GM Church a half dozen or so annual conferences were already up and running, and more were waiting in the wings; we had hundreds of local churches seeking guidance and connection. As we powered up to meet this challenge, we learned our presidents pro tem were doing excellent work fulfilling the day-to-day needs of our annual conferences, while Bishops Jones and Webb were providing essential oversight of an increasing number of the conferences.”

While acknowledging that this transitional arrangement was less than ideal, the Church’s task force on superintendency did see some merit in it. Global Methodists, the task force members agreed, do want a denomination with far fewer bishops, but the question was how to fulfill that demand in a nascent Church that already had 30 annual conferences and at least a dozen more hoping to join in the coming year?

“What we learned, as we talked with presidents pro tem and visited with Bishops Jones and Webb, was that, by and large, they were all working well together,” said Greenway. “To be sure, two bishops cannot, in the long-term, oversee 15 to 20 annual conferences. But with the assistance of conference superintendents, it does seem possible that bishops can effectively preside over five or six conferences. So we set to work developing and proposing a general episcopacy model with the new office of conference superintendent.”

Among a list of responsibilities, they will collaborate with annual conference leaders to see that the GM Church’s vision and mission is fulfilled in their conference areas. They will provide general oversight of fiscal and program operations of the conference, and recommend to the bishop a team of clergy to serve as presiding elders (the GM Church’s nomenclature for a district superintendents) in the annual conference. Finally, conference superintendents, in consultation with the presiding elders and local churches, will present clergy appointments to the bishop so he or she can fix and approve them.

Mindful of various geographical, numerical, and financial contexts, the proposed legislation permits two or more annual conferences to share a conference superintendent. And it provides for the possibility that some superintendents may simultaneously serve a local church while providing conference leadership. Bishops, in consultation with an annual conference connectional council or equivalent body, will appoint conference superintendents. Those appointed may serve as a superintendent for a maximum of 12 years.

“The GM Church’s transitional season has had its challenges, but it has also allowed ideas to percolate,” said the Rev. Dr. Leah Hidde-Gregory, president pro tem of the Mid-Texas Provisional Annual Conference and TLC member. “I am proud to be in a Church that’s remaining faithful to traditional offices that connect and unite us, and yet also experimenting with new roles that are creative, nimble, and allow for flexibility when it comes to implementation. We want annual conferences and local churches to plow as many resources as possible into fulfilling the Church’s mission!”

Launched on May 1, 2022, the GM Church continues in a state of transition until duly elected delegates from around the world meet for its convening General Conference in September 2024. The General Conference is the denomination’s principal authoritative body, and it will consider all legislative matters that come before it. In just over two years, 4,588 local churches have joined the GM Church, and 30 provisional conferences have been organized to connect them together.

Read the Report of the Task Force on the Nature of the Episcopacy.

Read the TLC’s proposed legislative recommendations.

Future So the World Will Know articles will continue to report on the proposed legislation for consideration at the GM Church’s convening General Conference.

Readers can learn more about the Global Methodist Church by exploring its website.

The Rev. Walter Fenton is the Global Methodist Church’s Deputy Connectional Officer.